Thankfully, not all Evangelicals have embraced the surreal and bizarre beliefs of Christian nationalism. There are some of us who still value thinking for ourselves. Christian nationalism is a religious cult. It is un-Christian but employs Christian concepts and discourse to deceive its followers. Those who serve up the Kool-Aid to the masses have sold out their Christian conscience to the seduction of power and position. In many cases these deceptive leaders are not Christians but realize that mixing religious idolatry with politics draws crowds.
At its core, Christian nationalism is a political ideology of protest. It’s a revolt – some would say an insurrection – against anyone or any institution opposed to its fundamental belief that America’s national destiny must be Christian and it is a Christians’ duty to persuade the government by force of fiat if necessary to return to its Christian heritage.
But Christianity was never meant to be a political ideology. Nor was the U.S. constitution meant to become a Christian’s rule for life and godliness (which many Christian nationalists actually believe). On the contrary, Christianity finds its purpose not in protest, or politics, or power, but through loving justice and showing mercy – especially to the poor.
Though Christian nationalists have repeatedly attempted to legislate their ideology – think Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority – they have always failed. You would think after centuries of these failed attempts (consider the Crusades or the Christian nationalists in Germany who created the final solution of eradicating European Jews to return Germany and the occupied territories to their Christian heritage by destroying Jews and Judaism) Christian nationalists would have learned their lesson but the seduction of power is apparently too tempting. Intolerance and rage against the outsider – the other – sells tickets and fills seats.
Thinking Christians would never fall prey to the ludicrous ignorance and intolerance of Christian nationalism. And if they did they would become disillusioned with the arrogant and angry cult of opposition after a while. Kind of like the coming of age of singer Bob Dylan.
In the early 1960’s Dylan was a cultural icon – a prophet of sorts – in the folk music protest movement. But soon Dylan became troubled with living his life in a rant. In a 1964 interview published in The New Yorker, Dylan lamented writing “finger pointing songs” and explained, “Now a lot of people are doing finger pointing songs. You know – pointing to all the things that are wrong. Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore. You know – be a spokesman.”
Dylan soon after wrote, “My Back Pages”, a song that expressed the rejection of his earlier passion for protest. The lyrics portray a disillusioned Dylan – a deliverance so to speak – out of the conscience dulling mentality of always finding someone to blame:
“Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth…Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed.”
Dylan was coming to learn there wasn’t an us and them and the world could not be defined in bold shades of black and white – it was more grey:
“Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect deceived me into thinking I had something to protect.”
In “My Back Pages” Dylan seems to be saying that being caught up in protest and blame created within him his own kind of hatred and prejudice toward those he disagreed with. It shows he was awakening to the pride that comes when someone sees themselves as both judge and jury of all who differ from them. The song’s refrain is one of humility – declaring that Dylan once thought he knew better than others and he now realized to be a perceptive and thinking person one must come to understand how little they actually know.
In his book about Dylan, Chimes of Freedom, author Mike Marqusee says of the song’s refrain, “The lifting refrain…must be one of the most lyrical expressions of political apostacy ever pinned. It is a recantation…in every sense of the word”:
“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
In other words, I once was arrogant enough to believe I knew everything about the world and in my pride I embraced the same intolerance and prejudice I was protesting…I was much older then, bound by my own narrow view of others. I realize now I was blinded by hate and I’ve been freed by the childlike simplicity of knowing I don’t know everything – I’m younger than that now. Dylan was not renouncing the things he was protesting against but the group think of the protest movement which shattered individual reasoning and freedom.
If Christian nationalists had the ability to think like Bob Dylan, they would have noticed long before now that Trumpism would have eventually morphed into the kind of Evangelical political frenzy it has become. The reckless swerving of the Trump convoy moving between the lanes of absurd and indifferent intolerance toward the press (the fake news mantra), Antisemitic hate speech (“Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have…before it’s too late”) and his constant appeal to white supremacists should have at the very least inspired Christian nationalists to get off the bus and think about how any of this was actually Christian. But so far, there is no sign of the humble refrain of Dylan – “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
Christian nationalism has entered the realm of the surreal. One Christian nationalist has gone as far as to declare Trump is the Christ. In Helgard Muller’s new book, President Donald J. Trump – The Son of Man – The Christ, he writes, “President Donald Trump is the Christ of this age. The Son of King David. Prophesies of Jesus and all the prophets point to President Donald Trump as the Son of Man, the Christ.”
This is absurd but even more insane is the fact that Trump has consistently compared himself to Christ. In 2019 Trump shared tweets that proclaimed him as the “King of Israel” and “the second coming of God.” In late September of 2022 Trump added a post from a user of his Truth Social account that declared: “Jesus is the Greatest, President Donald Trump is the second greatest.” The post included an image of Jesus. Trump “ReTruthed” the connection to Jesus to his 4.1 million Truth Social followers. There was no outcry from his base because to be on the bandwagon of Christian nationalism one must give up the freedom to think for themselves.
Christian nationalism only succeeds when it triumphs in erasing the Christian mind by crumbling it into a kind of mindless repeating of a cultish mantra. In his book, On Tyranny, Levin Professor of History at Yale University, Timothy Snyder says, “You submit to Tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. This renunciation of reality can feel natural and pleasant, but the result is your demise as an individual – and thus the collapse of any political system that depends on individualism.”
History shows us that Christian nationalism always paved the way for totalitarianism because the masses willingly gave up their individual freedom for the false hope of self-preservation.
There is hope for the few thinking Christians left in the cult of Christian nationalism. To escape and preserve their human freedom and dignity they must look at themselves with the kind of humble reflection found in the refrain of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages”: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”